As a web design company, we know that if you want to rank on page one of the search engine results pages (SERP) you have to focus on search engine optimisation (SEO) and website design, to achieve high organic rankings.
The problem is that Google keeps moving the goal posts and over the years, they’ve introduced a whole host – heck, practically an entire zoo – of algorithm updates. The over-riding reason for these updates has been to provide searchers with the most relevant results to their queries, which is admirable. However, these continual changes mean that a website’s SEO has to be kept up-to-date, in order to rank well.
To date, we still do not know what factors search engines actually use to rank each web page, but keywords, back-links and anchor text have definitely been the most powerful factors determining high organic rankings. The word in the industry however, is that all three of these factors are to one degree or another, becoming less dominant in organic rankings.
So if keywords, backlinks and anchor text have lost their appeal – what is left?
Well at the moment, you still need to focus on these three factors, to achieve high organic rankings in the serps, and most probably always will, but the following factors should also be considered:
CO-OCCURRENCE AND CO-CITATIONS
Both of these terms are concerned with links and refer to instances where a web page might rank for a keyword, but has no anchor text using that keyword or any on-site optimisation for that keyword.
How does this happen? Well, the best way to explain this is with an example. Imagine you have a business creating IT/AV/Software for other businesses. A number of high ranking websites refer to your business and state that you created corporate training videos for them. Over time, your business may start to rank for the keyword phrase corporate training videos, even if you have no on-site optimisation for that phrase. This is co-occurrence.
Co-citation is where for example, website A mentions or refers to website B and website C. By virtue of being mentioned by website A, search engines will now see that website B and C are related to one another.
So co-occurrence is where the very presence and frequency of similar keywords, referring to your business, exist across multiple websites, without the use of targeted keywords or anchor text. Co-citation is based on the similarity between two or more websites, based on being mentioned by a third-party, authoritive website.
There may or may not be actual hyperlinks, with or without anchor text, but the point is that anchor text is not the important factor here – the fact that a search engine identifies a relationship between websites is what helps to boost your organic rankings.
Co-occurrence and co-citation are founded on having high quality content that is good enough to be shared across the internet (more on this below).
STRING ENTITY OPTIMISATION
This is all about search engines wanting to provide relevant results on the serps and is based on content and credibility. For a search engine to understand your brand, it is important to identify your brand within the context of your online content, whether that be on your business website or within a directory, for example.
One of the best ways for search engines to understand your brand is for your audience to understand your brand. As people begin to associate you with certain keywords, targeted or otherwise, the search engines will pick up on these cues. Being consistent in your branding message is important here and will help search engines to decide your relevance and to organically rank your brand for generic keywords or phrases.
Authority sites are those that have high quality content that is frequently shared, lots of traffic and are seen as a resource. It is a useful website that people want to visit because of the quality of the content, it is seen as trustworthy and has lots of links to other good quality sites.
A well-known indicator that search engines use to determine whether a website is an authority or not is the number and quality of backlinks. Being seen as an authority can influence your organic rankings, so it pays to consider the following factors:
How much traffic your site receives and your bounce rates because they reflect your popularity and relevance
Social signals are becoming more important over time and whilst are not directly included in Google’s algorithms, they do have far reaching consequences in terms of sharing
Brand mentions – how often your brand is mentioned on other websites
The domain authority based on the quality of back links and content on your website
Having high quality content that engages your audience and having authority within an industry, being seen as a resource – all helps your social influence. The more people share your content, not just across social media, but throughout the internet – the greater your social influence.
It is important to communicate with your audience via your brand, your unique value proposition and your advertising as well as by commenting on other people’s work or participating in social networks. All of this communication influences your social standing, which increases your organic rankings in the serps.
Whilst the importance of backlinks may be losing its importance, the more natural your backlinks and the better quality these backlinks, the better your organic rankings. Natural links can be achieved by a combination of all the above factors – social influence, authority and engaging content.
A few effective strategies that you can incorporate into your marketing strategies to create natural links are:
To run competitions and advertise them via your social network and other websites. This will help to increase links to your website from Twitter and Facebook, as well as from the websites that agree to promote your competition or host a guest blog.
Create evergreen content such as tutorials, lessons, case studies, reviews or lists. This will keep people returning to your website, and be seen as an authority and a resource. Links will then develop naturally.
Provide research supported by current data. People love new data and search the internet for good relevant sources of information. So if you provide business data, statistics or the results of surveys that others can use, as part of your content, people will begin to link to your web pages as the source of this data.
It is unlikely that keywords and key phrases, anchor text and backlinks will ever become unimportant factors in organic rankings. Search engines however, particularly Google, are moving to a more organic interpretation of relevance, based on social influences and the wider community.
Overall, it appears that the understanding, acceptance and standing of your business within the online community, measured by a variety of different factors, are the drivers that will influence your organic rankings in the serps, for the foreseeable future.